The Value of Due Process

Criminal Procedure is a law school course with several doctrines that clarify with life experiences. One such topic is due process. Due process is the “conduct of legal proceedings according to established rules and principles for the protection and enforcement of private rights.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Ed. I was reminded of my ever growing appreciation for that concept in a recent episode of ESPN’s Emmy-nominated documentary series 30 for 30. The documentary considers important people and events in sports history.

In the most recent episode, Fantastic Lies, the documentary reviews the events of March 13, 2006. It was on that date that the Duke University lacrosse team had a party. By the end of the night, one of the most prominent schools in the country had tarnished its image; legal careers were ruined; and lives were changed forever.

Several aspects of the documentary are fascinating: the limitless dangers of stereotypes; the perils of pride for individuals and institutions alike; and the hard work by a young lawyer which ultimately triumphed in the end. However, the thing I found most profound was the value of due process as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime . . . without due process of law. . . “ USCS Const. Amend. 5. “. . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” USCS Const. Amend. 14, , USCS Const. Amend. 14, § 1.

In the days following the events of March 13, 2006, I was a third year law student and first year associate who had taken criminal procedure in a by-gone day. But because of my own stereotypes, pride, and lack of appreciation for the defendants’ due process rights, I found them guilty of every allegation made against them. Long before the District Attorney was found to have hidden exculpatory DNA evidence, I found the defendants guilty. Long before the alleged victim was herself convicted of second degree murder, I found the defendants guilty. Long before the District Attorney was found to be most motivated by re-election, I found them guilty. Without due process, evidence found only through the discovery process would have never come to light.

Fortunately, the architects of our country’s founding document understood the concept of due process well enough to provide all of us with that protection. Hopefully I will continue to better appreciate the value of due process and guard it vigilantly.

Matt LeDuke